While many people travel to South Africa to experience safaris and surf, Academy Mortgage recently traveled to the culturally diverse African nation to serve.
A group of more than 160 loan officers, managers, executives, and other company representatives participated in Academy’s Service Expedition to South Africa in September. Each Academy attendee was invited to share the experience with one guest, usually a family member or close friend.
The Expeditioners gave two days of service to benefit The Makwetse School, which is located near Kruger National Park and is filled to capacity with more than 700 students. Despite having classrooms overflowing with 100 students or more, the public school cannot and will not turn any child away or the school risks losing its government funding.
“I could not believe how small the classrooms were and how many kids were in each class!” said Academy District Manager Nick Staker of Fort Wayne, Ind. “It was humbling to see how content the people were, despite having so few material possessions and limited resources. It was also so gratifying leaving the village and seeing many of the local people in Academy gear and many Academy employees without shoes.”
Improving the school’s infrastructure was Academy’s primary focus. Academy volunteers assisted with the construction of a desperately needed school kitchen—a life-saving addition in an environment where school meals are often some students’ only meals of the day. To help keep the kitchen shelves stocked, Academy volunteers also built key-hole gardens, which the students will tend. Other projects included: painting classrooms and windows, refurbishing over 400 student desks, and painting bookshelves for the school’s new library in bright colors. All of the projects, including the construction of the library and future construction of a new playground, were funded by Academy.
“It was incredible to put in such a labor-intensive day of work,” said Academy Branch Manager Charadie Finkle of Colorado Springs, Colo. “The reward we felt for our time was unlike any feeling that we’ve ever experienced. The people were beyond kind and so grateful!”
“It’s hard to put into words how amazing and humbling this experience was,” said Michelle Trevino, a Senior Loan Officer in Whittier, Calif. “To give back as an individual is great, but to give back as a group is phenomenal because it feels like collectively we can make an even bigger difference in people’s lives.”
Only Academy’s highest-performing managers, loan officers, and employees earn the opportunity to go on the Service Expedition. Since the program’s inception in 2011, Academy team members company-wide have to come to recognize that there is truly no greater reward than the chance to serve others.
“The Service Expedition is an important component of our heavily service-oriented company culture,” said Academy President James Mac Pherson. “Our commitment to service initiatives—both at home and abroad—helps define our culture and differentiates our company in the mortgage industry.”
“A trip of this caliber, with service being the primary focus, is different from any other sales incentive trip of any company out there,” said Academy Sales Manager Jevon Domench of Vancouver, Wash. “It truly shows what Academy stands for.”
“This trip allowed me to see firsthand how our company effectively acts on our vision to inspire hope, deliver dreams, and build prosperity,” said Academy District Manager Scott Shelton of Sterling, Va. “Our company culture is genuine in the value we place on serving the needs of others. To be rewarded in such a tremendous way with trips like this incentivizes me to continue what I am doing and to do even more to ensure I qualify for future trips. Top producers like myself truly know this generous reward is rare in our industry.”
The Service Expedition also provides participants with opportunities to immerse themselves in the local culture, either by joining in traditional celebrations, spending time bonding with the local people, or taking in the local sights. Academy’s South African adventure included a safari and dinner in the bush.
“Words simply cannot describe the Service Expedition experience,” said Academy Area Manager Brian Kerby of Lakewood, Colo. “You just can’t walk away from an experience like this and not be impacted in a capacity that changes your life.”
Watch the video below.